Let’s Play a Game

Israelis are very expressive people. Whatever they do, it is done with immense passion and a whole lot of hand gestures.

For the last few years, I’ve started playing a game: I people watch and guess if they are arguing or merely having a conversation. Now this probably sounds ridiculous cause any idiot can spot the difference between the two, but you’d be surprised.

I’ve seen conversations about the weather with hand gesticulations as if we were entering WWIII.

I have witnessed a woman ask the bus driver what the cost of a ticket is and the conversation somehow ends up in 3 old ladies arguing about why she’s still single.

yelling

Non-verbal communication is equally, if not more important, than verbal communication. When it comes to a country where nothing is off limits and most things are verbally expressed (for better or for worse), the non-verbal communication follows suit. A conversation can be riddled with wide, open armed gestures followed by a playful slap on the arm followed by a “yo” wrist shake followed by a noogie followed by a kiss on the cheek and then a shake of the hands. Maybe even throw in a hug and an “I don’t believe you” wrist flop for good measure.

So next time you’re waiting for the bus or looking to kill some time, I suggest trying this game for yourself. And no cheating – you can’t be within hearing distance!

rega

 

You call it scary, I call it home

Yeah, yeah – I know. The Middle East is fucked up. And I live smack dab in the middle of it. I get it, I live a tumultuous country, especially now that there is currently a flood of news reports about the “Israeli Palestinian Conflict.”

I’m not gonna go on a political rant here (ok, maybe I will but I’ll keep it short) but what the fuck. Imagine that you’re on your way to work, minding your own business when suddenly you are faced with an attacker holding a knife. Your punishment is death – the crime? being Israeli. Obviously once an attacker is caught, he is shot (whether to be absolutely sure that he is neutralized or because of an eye-for-an-eye mentality I can’t say). Then the international news goes on to report that you, the victim were the cause for incitement and that the attacker was some bystander who was shot and killed. Not only is that false  reporting (looking at you, CNN) but it’s completely infuriating to see. Whatever, that’s besides the point. I’d also like to mention that I stay aware of my surroundings and have never once felt anything but safe.

On that note, I’d like to point out that life goes on. My cousin this morning told me that the news alerts of attacks are less shocking to her each time they happen – that you have no choice but to get “used to it” as much as you can.

I expected that moving here would be complicated. I never expected that moving here would mean that I would be put in situations where I am asked to give up my sanity, my livelihood and my sense of security. That is simply not an option. When you love something, whether it be a place, a person or whatever, you recognize the flaws. You accept them. Then you move forward.

Which brings me to my main point of this post: that throughout all of this stress, all of the turmoil, I had that feeling a few nights ago. That feeling you get when you suddenly realize that you have reached most of your goals and that you’re pretty damn proud of yourself.

Walking home from my second week at a new job, I realized that wow, I’ve really accomplished a lot. I moved to a new country. I learned a new language. I experienced real love with an amazing guy. I made great friends. I found a job, twice. I found an apartment, also twice. I found out who I am.

The past two and a half years have taught me not just how to get my shit together, but how to manage it too. And I never would have had the chance to experience these perfect things if not for me being in this turbulent and messy country that I love so very much.

beach

I fired myself

Hebrew is a really smart language. It was re-invented after having died out which is hella impressive if you ask me (and I know you did). It follows seven different verb patterns, all with their own purpose and grammar rules. Some are passive, some are active, and some are reflexive.

The reflexive pattern is my favorite: It is simplistic, it makes sense but it also sounds ridiculous when translated directly to English. For example, in English you say “I got dressed” but in Hebrew it’s התלבשתי, or literally: “I dressed myself.” Imagine a grown man saying “I dressed myself in jeans this morning.” Hilarious! (Although it’s good to know that he’s not still depending on his mom for that). Also, take the word התקלחתי – means “I took a shower” but literally means “I showered myself.”

One word that has been pretty hilarious to me lately is the word התפטרתי, meaning “I fired myself”. A realistic translation would write it as “I quit” or “I resigned” but I love the idea of telling people that you fired yourself. I’ve been focusing on this word a lot lately because I quit my job a few weeks ago. That’s right. I fired myself…now if only I could offer myself severance pay – that would be bomb.

As much as I love my company and co-workers (/friends!), it is time to move on. Being the planner that I am, it was very unlike me to “fire myself” without having a solid plan of action for the next step. But yalla I live in the start up nation! I’ll land on my feet – and I’ll enjoy the fall in the meantime.

Ashkenazi curses and cures

Being an Ashkenazi Jew pretty much guarantees that I have lost the genetic lottery. Heart Disease? Sure. Diabetes? Yes. Anxiety? Obviously. Cancer? Unfortunately so. High blood pressure? You bet. Pretty much everything runs in my family (sorry to my future kids) which is really great when you throw in some gastro issues as a bonus.

For some reason, it seems that a large percentage of other white people (of Eastern European origin) in this country seem to experience some form of stomach issue. Ranging from gluten intolerance to lactose intolerance to IBS to general sensitivity, it’s amazing that we allow ourselves to be fed so much at a Shabbat dinner. I don’t know happened, genetically, all those generations ago that got us to this point but here we are – living with daily stomach disruptions.

When I first moved to Israel, even before I made aliyah, I remember dealing with these issues. At first I was told “you’re just adjusting to Israel,” then I was told “you’re just stressed out because you made aliyah,” then I was told “you’re anxious because you moved to Tel Aviv,” then I was told “you may have a gluten intolerance. Oh, wait, maybe not” and then I stopped listening to people.

Unfortunately, a non-diagnosis is the best it’s gonna get and as much as I like my doctor, she is always booked up months in advance. So. In between harassing her secretary into getting me an earlier appointment and complaining to my mom, I do what any self-respecting Ashkenazi would do: make some Jewish penicillin. The cure-all, matzah ball soup is truly a miracle. Granted, as a vegetarian, I don’t make it with chicken bones which really do enhance the flavor, but those little dumplings of deliciousness find a way to “warm the cockles of my heart,” as my grandpa used to say. And while I’m at it, let the record state that my mom makes the best matzah ball soup. Yes, even better than your mom makes it – deal with it.

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The 70 year old with elbows of an 18 year-old

I can be pretty scrappy if need be. I mean, hey, just cause I stopped growing at the age of 11 and am just shy of reaching the 5 foot mark doesn’t mean much. I can hold my own when it comes down to it.

9 times out of 10, holding my own is a necessity if I am in any semblance of a line. Waiting to pay at the grocery store, getting on the bus, even getting on and off the elevator can turn into an argument and the key is to be prepared.

One thing that took me a long time to get accustomed to in Israel is that old people are experts at sharpening their elbows. Age doesn’t slow them down – in fact, it adds to their momentum. It is more prudent for them to beat you the bus and oh, there’s a sale on olives? you better move it, son.

The bus is my biggest obstacle these days. Summer’s here and it’s hot. My goal is to get on the bus first, claim an air conditioned seat and get lost on Instagram in peace before starting my day.

bus

Here’s my reality: meet the ferocious eye contact of the old man using a walker, offer him to assist him onto the bus, receive a smile accompanied by an elbow to the face, end up getting on the bus after everyone else, be forced to stand up the whole ride since the seats have all been claimed by this point (see what I mean about being prepared here?).

So, then comes the question: when does being scrappy benefit over being nice? My policy maintains that when it comes to the bus, there is wiggle room. I prefer to help out the old man, even though his elbows are surprisingly strong for his age.  However, in the grocery store line there is no compromise. You gotta stake your claim and refuse to budge. You give an inch and everyone will be trampling all over you.

And let’s be real here, the best tool at your disposal is a very heavy sigh, an audible “נו” and then the argument begins. But at least it’s free of elbows!

Where are you going?

Traveling is a whole ordeal. Getting to the airport, going through security, reaching your gate in time, etc. Traveling to/from Israel means extra security and lots of questions.

Anyone who has been to Israel before knows to expect an interview with a security agent. When I had only American citizenship, these questions were rapid, random, and, for the most part, irrelevant to my life in anyway. (Let’s be honest here – no one remembers what their Bar Mitzvah Haftorah portion was.) Now that I also have an Israeli passport, this security interview is much faster and more straight to the point. The questions are still quick-fired, but more for the sake of efficiency than anything else. Having an Israeli passport means that even though I arrived 3 hours early for my flight, I only spent 5 minutes of that time waiting in line for that part of security. 

The best part of this interview is that after it ends, a new one begins. I’m not talking about a security check anymore. This is more of an interrogation. Or, as some would call it, a normal interaction with Israelis. Airports are the best place to people watch: who is this person? is he going home? on vacation? alone? is someone waiting for him? These are all questions that, in Israel, are perfectly acceptable to ask complete strangers. Once this conversation begins, it’s hard to stop. The trick is to shut it down before the questions get past a certain point. If your relationship status is brought up, it’s game over and there’s no going back.

While waiting in line to check into my flight, an old Hassidic man was interrogating (whoops, I mean conversing with) an elderly Russian man. They were switching between Hebrew, Yiddish (people still speak Yiddish?) and a little Russian. While the languages were impressive, as soon as the Hassidic man turned and made eye contact with me, I knew I was next. 4:30 in the morning is not my optimal conversation time, so I successfully avoided him.  

Another benefit of living in Israel: Not only is my security check quicker, but I have also learned the art of evading an inevitable inquisition from a stranger. 

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good morning! בוקר טוב ושבת שלום!